The Wisdom of Steve

So, my friend’s son reached the significant age of 18 recently which brings up all sorts of questions like, how did that happen? Wasn’t it just yesterday that I held him in my arms? Surely only last week that I played “catch the Autumn leaf” with him in Tatton Park? As part of the celebrations, his Mum asked me, along with other aging humans, to contribute some wisdom that may help to lead him through the perilous journey of life. Here is my wisdom, the Wisdom of Steve, which I’m sure he will (and probably should) ignore…

The older you get the more you know you know very little.

Everyone is blagging it.

People only have as much power over you as you let them.

Synchronised Swimming is very skilful but not a sport.

Humour is in the eye of the beholder.

The greatest joke is the Two Monkeys in a Bath Joke but it loses something when written down.

God is bigger than you think. You are smaller than you think.

Nobody really knows “What Would Jesus Do” (WWJD) and that’s the point.

You are unique. You are loved.

Cats are parasites.

Putting fruit flavours in beer or cider is an abomination.

There is no such thing as pear cider – it’s perry.

Every sport is pointless unless you enjoy it.

Comic Sans is for children only. As is Harry Potter.

The point of life is to become more human and to make other people’s journey easier.

Celebrities are, generally, oxygen thieves.

The only thing that outlasts you is the memory of how you treated people.

God’s love for you is outrageous, extravagant and costly.

Music, food and hope are universal.

Wes Anderson is a genius.

Art is elitist. Creativity is for all.

McDonald’s is not food.

Be kind. Be gentle. Be good.

You don’t need heroes.

Find a pen you love.

Create stuff even if no-one gets it.

The greatest skill to learn is how to be adaptable.

Pastel colours are not colours. Beige is for people with no imagination.

If your politics make life harder for people, especially marginalised people, you need to rethink your politics.

Your closest friends should be better than you (although I realise this can cause a paradox).

Cheese shouldn’t smell like the animal it came from.

Heed the small voices.

Fashions will become ridiculous and, in most cases, fashionable again.

Pigeons are rats with wings.

The Hudsucker Proxy is an amazing film. There are many amazing films.

Knowledge for knowledge sake is great for pub quizzes but not much else.

Marry your best friend.

There are always stars behind the clouds.

Be wary of platitudes.

Gambling will not make you rich. You will be paying for another casino.

When drinking alcohol, set a limit. Only go over that limit occasionally and in trusted company.

The countryside is wet and smelly but if you must venture into it do it with your heart wide open.

If love is selfish, it’s not love.

You have to leave your roots to appreciate them. This does not apply to hair dye.

Life is an adventure. There are times of dark as well as light but light always wins in the end.

Better to be loving than right.

Graphic novels are not comics. Animated films are not cartoons.

Popular opinion is seldom correct.

Lessons are learnt through experience not by taking advice.

Learn empathy. Practice grace.

Don’t use those words (you know the ones I mean) as punctuation. It makes you look stupid.

Give a damn.

Lead sometimes. Follow sometimes. Learn to know when.

Art is all about the little white card next to the painting.

If you give into violence, you’ve already lost.

Dark humour for dark times.

Do nothing every now and then – absolutely nothing.

Work will always fill the void if you don’t fill it with something of value.

Jesus is not meek & mild. He does not want you as a sunbeam.

Blind faith is lazy. And dangerous.

Caviar is just fish eggs. Champagne is just fizzy wine.

A Skoda is a VW with a different badge. Don’t pay more for badges.

A good friend is someone you don’t see for a long time and you pick up the conversation where you left off.

Don’t use a pencil as a drumstick, it breaks the graphite. Put the top back on the felt pen.

I can’t yet. Not, I can’t.

Star Wars is a film not a religion. This applies to all art and media.

Any food that only tastes good dipped in butter is superfluous. Just eat the butter.

Don’t eat the weasel. Biblical truth.

A badger is funnier than a fox. A lemming is funnier than a polecat.

There are 54 kinds of mustelids. Embrace them but not literally.

Don’t put your finger in the custard.

Poverty is evil. It makes people small. People aren’t meant to be small.

Always have a hobby. It doesn’t matter what – just something you love.

Don’t wear underwear more than once before washing it. It’s gross.

Tagging is the artless work of morons. Street art is the voice of the powerless.

Tattoos are permanent and unchanging. Removing them is very painful. Only get tattoos your 70 year old self will be proud of.

There is no such thing as a free app.

Adverts are there to make you feel bad enough that you’ll buy what they’re selling.

The News doesn’t reflect the real state of the world because kindness doesn’t sell newspapers.

The more stuff you have, the more you have to maintain it.

And finally. Don’t be creepy. Don’t be a nob head.

The Return of the Bodkin

Very excited. I finally got to use my Wacom drawing tablet, which means I can draw straight into the laptop without having to scan or use the mouse to draw (not easy, believe me). It also means I can develop my Bodkin characters, which are in their fourth incarnation (at least), and move away from geometric shapes into a more natural drawing style. I still use a modular style, where each element is an object in its own right, so that once a character is complete I can reposition it and not have to draw the whole thing again.

The first character is called Quinn (one of about 300 in the sketchbook, so we’ll see how many I do before I move on to the next project), I hope you like them.

Punk Prayers

Ever had one of those days where you nip out for a quick errand which turns into a whole day? Yep, one of those days. I took the car in for its MOT and settled in a local café for the 90 minutes it would take the garage to do their thing. I had breakfast, got my notebook out and started to doodle. Then I got the call. The car had failed and it needed some repairs; hundreds of pounds of repairs and another three hours wait! Can you hear the sigh I just did? I’m still feeling the pain of it.

So, I relocated to the only place I could legitimately loiter for the next couple of hours; the library. I found a workspace right at the back, near a big window and pulled out the notebook again.

Last Autumn I had a thought for a project (yes, another one) called Punk Prayers. The idea was to write familiar types of prayer as honestly and as raw as I could. That meant cutting out the flowery language and not bothering about what it would look like to other people. I wanted it to be me and God. And now, forced to stop and wait, I took the opportunity to gather together some of the notes; write some more pieces; and refine what I had (or more to the point, un-refine it).

The three hours turned into four and a half, which gave me enough time to finish the project (I know, right? Me, finishing a project. Whatever next?). It took another day to type it all up and create a new page for the website but it’s all done. Finished. I feel a little giddy.

Punk prayers are not for everyone but if you feel like having a look you can find them here

Here’s a little taster

Communion

Grain and soil and water and sunlight

Reaping and refining and mixing and heat

Seed and soil and water and sunlight

Vine and harvest and treading and time

Thorn and whip and nail and darkness

Breath and tears and joy and light

Heart and mind and body and spirit

Gathered and forgiven and remembering and loved

That Morning

They slept on, unaware, as the dawn stalked Jerusalem.
In the city and the towns and the villages, they navigated dreams and nightmares, stretching out as in the freedom of flight and curling back as if returning to the womb.

Amber sunlight gently warmed the death-cold stone, illuminating diamond dew, and elbowing shadows out of the way. Today was not for shadows.
The night creatures retreated to their lairs and the birds heralded a new day in a cacophony of glory.

Tentatively the morning rays entered the tomb, motes of dust sparkling with new possibilities, and unneeded graveclothes finding colour once more.
The body was gone and hope awoke, rubbing sleep from its eyes, and forgetting whip and thorn and nail.

And outside, as nervous footsteps approached, Death continued to stalk the world in his Sunday best, but his heart was no longer in it.

What’s Good About This Day?

What good about this day?
A day of betrayal and fear and absence
A day of pain and grief and the lowest expressions of humanity
Where life is cheap and death is so common as to not draw attention

What’s good about this day?
When even the Maker is rejected and goodness despised
When games of power are played out at the expense of the powerless
And richly clad rulers snicker behind carefully manicured hands
And think themselves, oh so clever

What’s good about this day?
If all that has been taught about love and peace and joy comes to nothing
And the example, the manifestation, of these good things hangs on a cross

What’s good about this day?
When hope dies and fear reigns and, yet again, the oppressor disposes of another nuisance
And puts the common people in their place

What’s good about this day?
The last day of the ultimate revolution
The last day of a new possibility
The last day of the Prince of Peace

Unless, of course, it’s just the beginning.

Rhythms

As I’ve got older I’ve started to notice things more, particularly rhythms of life. The seasons are the obvious ones when you live in the North of England, although you can get several seasons in one afternoon as it hails, sunshines, rains, one after another. So, I find myself waiting for the Blackbird to sing, the spiders to spin their webs, the geese to fly in skeins.

There are other rhythms too. Creativity is a big one for me and, although they seem to follow the seasons, they can also be seen in any given week or month. There are times when I can’t seem to get into the head space, times when I flit from one project to another, and those glorious times when it pours out and feels like it’ll never end.

I also have days, usually in the spring, when I rediscover lost projects, as if pushing aside the winter debris to discover green shoots pushing out of the soil. Sometimes these projects have remained untouched for months or years.

This week I found some of my photos that I’d adapted and suddenly I was making more, trying out different filters and effects. For three evenings I made hundreds of images with no purpose apart from the joy of making something. It was like an obsession.

Then I stopped.

I may make more next week or next month or in five years time, I don’t know, but when it calls to me again I’ll answer.

It used to bother me when things were incomplete, which is a problem when I have dozens of unfinished projects, but now I just go with the rhythm and the process has become much more important to me than the product.

And now you’ll have to excuse me because I’ve just noticed some illustrations that I’d like to develop a little more.

Fingerprints

I was doodling in my notebook, a variation on something I’d done before, when I noticed it looked a little like a fingerprint. Doodling is a form of meditation for me, it keeps me busy so that the other side of my brain can get a word in. So, I started thinking about fingerprints and wondering why we have them and why they are unique to us. Which led to creativity being a bit like a fingerprint and how each of us has a unique way of expressing things. All the while making these shapes on the page in black and red.

Some time ago, I was thinking about the Incarnation, the Christian belief that God became a human being, literally “made meat”, and it struck me that Jesus had a unique set of fingerprints – God with fingerprints. We’d been watching a lot of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation at the time and I started to imagine Gil and the team turning up to the crucifixion crime scene. This is what I wrote…

He empties himself,

The limitless, limits himself,

Sheds forever and takes on …

… fingerprints.

God with fingerprints.

If only CSI had been there in their beetle black SUVs shining blue light on wine jars in Cana,

Dusting the faces of the untouchable,

Touched by the one who loved them.

Peering through microscopes at crumbs of bread; analysing fish oil,

Extracting DNA from a flake of skin found in a pool of expensive perfume,

Cordoning off the crime scene with tape,

Taking blood samples, slivers of wood,

Checking iron nails on the spectrometer,

And later looking on in confusion as a living, breathing victim shakes their hand and says that an autopsy is unnecessary.

Wonder (part 2)

“Do you want something metal?”

I looked down at the slightly dishevelled 9 year old in his blue school jumper. His grin was ear to ear, obviously very pleased with his find. It’s the sort of question that sets off alarm bells in someone who has worked with children for a long time. I immediately had visions of sharp and jagged things.

“Yes,” I said emphatically.

He held out his hand.

This time last week I was sitting in the sun and working on a mini metal art piece; 75 small objects all connected together for people to explore. I got some very encouraging comments when I posted a picture of it on social media. One of our lovely American friends, a brilliant photographer and artist, mentioned that she hoped it included a metal washer. This is not as random as it may first appear – she collects washers that she finds lying on the ground and then makes beautiful art with them. I said I would add one but I could only find a corroded old washer and I was worried it might discolour some of the other objects. Never mind, one would turn up eventually – they always do (which is worrying in itself; shouldn’t they be doing the thing they were designed to do?).

I looked down at the boy in blue. In his hand was a small, shiny metal washer.

“That”, I said, “is just what I’m looking for. I’m going to put that in a piece of art.”

He beamed at me, gave me the washer, and went off to make mischief.

I may have an overactive imagination (I do) but in that moment it felt I heard a still, small voice whisper, “Don’t worry. I’m still here”.

Wonder

So I spent some of the day, sitting in the Spring sunshine, making an element for one of my prayer boxes. There are 8 prayer boxes currently under construction and I’m working on the one called Wonder at the moment. When you open the box you’ll discover, amongst other things, a mini sculpture made up of 75 small metal objects. Some of them were found, some were discovered, some were made.

Purposely, there are no instructions. I want people to discover their own connections to God, to forge their own links, and to allow themselves to get lost in Wonder.

Wonderlust

I remember Lauren Laverne talking on BBC Radio 6 about the vastness of music and how sometimes we need maps from those who’ve gone before us. It really resonated with me. There is so much music out there, more than ever before, and sometimes it’s difficult to find. Of course, there’s Spotify (and other platforms) but where do you start with 50 million songs to choose from?

I’ve been lucky in my life to meet lots of people, many of them music fans, so I can get some starting points from them and explore a little on my own. Sometimes one song recommendation opens up a whole new genre and I can spend days lost in French Cafe Music or Soul or Delta Blues or even German Industrial Electronica. Sometimes the recommendation doesn’t do it for me but that’s OK, I can usually find something else that does.

Occasionally though I strike gold and along comes someone who is obsessed with music. They live and breathe it. They know how everything is connected. Best of all they know, after just a few questions, what I’ll like. They don’t give you one recommendation, they give you a hundred, and each new link opens doors into whole worlds of music. I was lucky enough to meet another one of those people yesterday and now I’m neck deep in new music, at least new to me, and “kid in a candy store” doesn’t quite cover it. I have armfuls of tracks which I’ll drop because there’s something wonderful over there that I haven’t tried yet (don’t worry I’ll go and pick them up later), then I’m distracted by some piece I knew but had forgotten, and then there’s that version of that song that is even better than the one I already love. Oh my.

While sometimes the world seems to be falling apart (again) and our leaders seem to have totally lost the plot (again), it’s good to remember that there is infinite wonder out there. Not just music and literature and images and makes but ideas and grace and love and peace. And, yes, we have to try and help to make the world a better place to live in, but we can grab handfuls of wonder to help us.